The international bottle museum was founded in 1986. The father of the idea of a museum Osmo Hänninen, the professor of physiology at the Kuopio University, had been collecting bottles since the 1970’s and his collection is the foundation of the collection of the museum. The museum houses approximately 6500 bottles, most of them gifts from around the world.
The collection of the museum spans 1600 years and several continents. In addition to the cultural and historic insight the museum provides the visitors with an aesthetic experience. The brilliantly lit vitrines accentuate the beauty, delicate colours and sumptuous curves and forms of glass. Due to the considerable size of the collection, the exhibition is changed every now and then.
History of Glass and Bottles
Glass is an ancient material: the oldest known glass artefacts originate from Mesopotamia and are over 5000 years old. Glassblowing, the requirement for manufacture of bottles, was invented approximately 2000 years ago around the western basin of the Mediterranean. Several glass products, including bottles, survive from the Roman Empire and classical period. The warm and relatively dry climate of the Mediterranean region and Asia Minor is favourable for the conservation of glass. Consequently, both clear and coloured glass with different, even exuberant decorations has been preserved to this day. The two oldest exhibits of the museum, a 1600 years old Roman tear bottle and an oil bottle from Syria, originate from this region and period.
In Finland the manufacture of glass began in the 17th century and the oldest Finnish items in the collection of the museum are from the beginning of the 19th century. Most of the bottles manufactured in Finland before the end of 19th century were meant as containers for distilled spirits, but the collection of the museum includes apothecary bottles and imported wine bottles from France.
In the 19th century the development of the brewing and beverage industry started to increase the demand on bottles. The booming spa culture and later on the prohibition act caused a massive increase in the demand of non-alcohol beverages and mineral water. One of the most interesting exhibits in the museum is a full basket of unopened bottles of mineral water from the end of the 19th century. There is also an extensive collection of Coca Cola bottles in the museum.
Brewing has been a part of the Finnish housekeeping since the prehistoric time. Industrial brewing, however, began only the middle of the 19th century.
The first Finnish beer bottles are from the 1820’s. The form of the first bottles was copied from the English porter bottle. Unlike demijohns, they were blown in a mould. The bottles were made of brown, bubbling mass. The cylindrical container was wide in comparison with wine bottles, and there was a bulge in the middle of the neck.
In the 1880’s the form of the bottle changed and conical bottles were introduced into the Finnish market. These bottles had a wider base and were the first ones to be closed with crown caps. Before this the bottles were closed with natural corks that were held in place by wire.
The first automatic glass blowing machinery came to Finland in the middle of 1930’s. The form of bottle changed as a consequence. The brown, short pilsner bottle with a volume of 0.5 litres was almost identical with the smaller lemonade bottle the production of which had started a couple of years earlier.
The common, brown beer bottle that is widely used today saw the light of the day in 1957. When the restrictions on the sale of medium strength beer were lifted in 1969, it became unprofitable to keep two different sizes of bottles on the market, and the older and bigger model was discarded.
Distilled spirit, moonshine, was regarded as a medicine for hundreds of years. Spirit did not start threat the position of the beer as an intoxicant until the 18th century, and distilling spirit was allowed for freeholders up to the year 1866 when it became a privilege of larger distilleries. Freely blown demijohns were used to as spirit bottles. These bottles were usually wrapped in birch-bark to increase their durability. The beautiful green colour that is very common in the old Finnish bottles is caused by the iron in the sand that was used in their manufacture.
In the 19th century the prevalent form of the liquor bottle was quadrangular. The reason was practical: quadrangular bottles could be stored and moved around in much smaller boxes. The big even surfaces enabled the development of decorative labels. The bottles themselves were often painted or decorated with carvings as well.
In 1892 the smallest allowed size for a liquor bottle was set at 2.0 litres. The purpose of this legislation was to make alcohol prohibitively expensive without raising the unit price. On the other hand, the later success of the temperance movement, the Prohibition Act, created a great demand for small hip flasks.
The end of the Prohibition in 1932 caused a sudden surge in the demand for liquor bottles. The machinated capacity proved insufficient, and for a short period a considerable amount of the bottles was blown by hand.
During the wars and the period of shortage they caused natural cork was not available for use and was replaced by paper and cardboard. The use of Finnish sand in the production of glass rgave the bottles a somewhat green colour, and air bubbles and other deformations were tolerated widely.
The revenue the sale of liquor produced to the state was vitally important in the war effort, but the liquor bottles were widely used as weapons as well. The so called Molotov cocktails, petrol bombs, were manufactured at the government liquor factory in Rajamäki.
The form of the Finnish liquor bottle has remained ascetic and simple since the end of the Prohibition. The only variables are usually the size and the form of the cork. Only liqueur bottles have exhibited a bit more individual and distinctive design. The only exception is the bottle of Finlandia vodka, designed by Tapio Wirkkala.
The permanent exhibition of the museum
- An exhibition of the products of the three biggest breweries of Finland
- Materials and tools used in the manufacture of glass
- Different cosmetic products
- A distiller and an extensive collection of liquor bottles
- Grandmother’s juice cellar
- Different milk bottles from Finland and abroad